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Emma Warehouse Closes in on 30 Years in Business

Writer / Angela Cornell
Photography Provided

Emma WarehouseThe do-it-yourself movement has swept the nation. There are thousands, if not millions, of project suggestions and ideas to be found online, in books, on television and from friends. Just about anything can be turned into a DIY project with the right instructions, including home improvement projects.

Emma Warehouse, a 42,000-square-foot establishment in Topeka, has been described by many people as a DIY heaven due to the vast variety of products and reasonable prices.

Joe Billman opened Emma Warehouse with his father Duane in the early 1990s as a discount outlet warehouse.

“It was the challenge of something new that I didn’t know, and I wanted to learn more about the business,” Billman says. “I knew some people who were doing it, and they asked if I would get involved and maybe help them a little bit. We went out and looked at some of the local suppliers around the community. It just kind of mushroomed into what we have today.”

At first, the business dealt in mobile home and RV salvage from local factories.

“We would go in and buy their overruns or model change materials, and then resell those on the local market,” Billman says.

It’s been well over 25 years since Emma Warehouse was founded, and people still rely on the business to find modular home and RV building supplies.

“They’re hard to find in box stores in general, so we do get a lot of business from the modular home industry,” says Kara Lipscomb, a sales associate and Billman’s sister.

However, the warehouse inventory extends far beyond just RV and modular home products.

“It doesn’t matter if they have a stick-built home or a manufactured home,” Lipscomb says. “We have a lot of supplies for both of those. We service everyone, really.”

The inventory consistently includes large selections of flooring like linoleum, hardwood and carpet, as well as trim, windows, mattresses and home decor.

About 20% of the business is surplus and discount items. The other 80% is new retail items, including a wide range of local Amish cabinetry and countertops, as well as gas and electric appliances. The company is a dealer for Valspar and Frigidaire, and is well known for new Goodman furnaces and HVAC units, all of which can be delivered locally.

Emma WarehouseOf course, the business would hardly be a one-stop shop for all things home improvement without an in-house hardware, plumbing and electrical department.

“Our main focus is on hardware and hard-to-find supplies for manufactured homes,” Lipscomb says.

Emma Warehouse wouldn’t be possible without the staff, including the long-time manager of the hardware department, Ben Eicher.

Eicher isn’t the only employee who has been with the business for a long time. In fact, most of their six employees have been around for 10 or more years. All are experts in their department, and most are over the typical retirement age.

“We all have our own department and we run it,” Lipscomb says. “It works well.”

Much of what they sell is competitively priced.

“We try to use an aggressive pricing structure so that people will feel like they’re getting a good deal,” Billman says. “When we can buy something at a discount or a closeout, and it would be a good buy for our customers, we’ll pass those savings on.”

Billman and Lipscomb never know for sure what kind of products will roll into the warehouse when a closeout or overrun inventory truck brings a delivery.

Since their discount and surplus inventory is never the same two weeks in a row, it can be difficult for customers to know what to expect when they walk through the doors. However, the staff tries to make the shopping experience easy.

“We try to connect with them as much as possible through our Facebook page,” Lipscomb says. “I do have a lot of customers who will message me looking for something, or they’ll shoot us an email saying, ‘Do you have this product in stock?’ or they’ll call us.”

Emma WarehouseAlthough Emma Warehouse specializes in stocking hard-to-find items, they don’t always have what customers are looking for. When that happens, customer service is always king.

“We do have a good working relationship with our competitors, so if we don’t have a product, we can say, ‘Here’s a phone number if you want to call them or go over and check out their store,’” Lipscomb says.

Not all home improvement projects can or should be done without professional help. Although Emma Warehouse doesn’t have an in-house installation crew or general contractor, they have working relationships with several in the area.

“We have several local contractors we refer people to,” Billman says.

Many Emma Warehouse customers live in the Topeka area, though it’s not uncommon to have someone walk through the door from as far away as Indianapolis. There are many people across North America who know Emma Warehouse is the place to go for deals.

“We’ve sold things that have gone as far east as Prince Edward Island,” Billman says. “From the far west, we’ve had people drive from California to pick up items. A lot of our stuff goes to Florida and down south with the snowbirds, and as far north as Alaska.”

Billman and Lipscomb grew up around LaGrange, where they learned how to run a business from their father Duane, who owned a small propane business. It was from him that they also learned the importance of community and customer service. For this brother-and-sister team, who volunteer regularly in the area in different capacities, Emma Warehouse is another way to be involved with and strengthen their community.

“We’re all very business-minded and very active in our community,” Lipscomb says.

Emma Warehouse is located at 5995 West 200 South in Topeka. Local delivery is available. For more info, visit emmawarehouse.com or call 260-593-2769.

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